A very special medal was awarded by IOC President Thomas Bach on 7 August at Rio 2016, as Majlinda Kelmendi claimed victory in the women’s -52kg weight class to become the first athlete from Kosovo to win an Olympic medal. The second judo Olympic title of the day went to Italy’s Fabio Basile in the mens’ -66kg.
Ranked second in her class, Kelmendi overcame 10th-seeded Odette Giuffrida of Italy in the final courtesy of single point from a yuko, which had initially been judged to be a more valuable waza-ari. The trailblazing Kosovan had an even tougher fight in the semi-final, squeezing past Japan’s Misato Nakamura by a penalty. Taking bronze along with Nakamura was Russia's Natalia Kuziutina.
Two-time world champion Kelmendi, who was Kosovo’s flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony, represented Albania at the London Games in 2012 but went home without a medal on that occasion. With Kosovo having since earned membership of the International Olympic Committee, in 2014, Kelmendi has finally been able to compete under her country’s flag at its Games debut in Rio, making her triumph all the more special.
“I'm so happy,” she said, reacting to her landmark achievement. “To be honest, I came here for the gold medal, but it's crazy. I'm so happy for me, for my coach, for all my country. This is the first time that Kosovo is part of the Olympics, and for the first time, I think gold is huge."
This is the first time that Kosovo is part of the Olympics, and for the first time, I think gold is huge.Majlinda Kelmendi
Describing what the gold means this her country, she added: "That means a lot. People, especially kids, in Kosovo look to me as a hero. I just proved to them that even after the war, even after we survived a war, if they want something, they can have it. If they want to be Olympic champions, they can be. Even if we come from a small country, poor country."
Kelmendi’s triumph made Kosovo the 100th NOC to win an Olympic gold medal and the 148th to win any kind of medal.
The day’s second judo gold went to Italy's Fabio Basile in the men’s -66kg class. Ranked 29th, the 21-year-old Italian stunned top seed An Baul of the Republic of Korea to take the gold, this after winning his first three contests by ippon, one of them against second-ranked Tumurkhuleg Davaadorj of Mongolia.
World champion An was also in impressive form, overcoming Japanese ace Masashi Ebinuma to reach the final, though he was no match for Basile, who tossed him for an ippon to win in style. Ebinuma and Uzbekistan’s Rishod Sobirov took bronze.
“Sincerely, I don't realise what's going on,” said a disbelieving Basile afterwards. “Because in real life, I'm going to realise in a few hours that my life has always been judo. It's a thing I've done since I was a child, and I was thanking everyone who helped me out from the main coach to my team and everybody else.”